Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Reflections on Six Months as a WorkCamper

So for the last six months (more or less) I've been enjoying the benefits of being a WorkCamper. I get to live in a city park with full-hookups (electricity, water, sewer, Cable TV and fast wireless internet). I'm a 5 minute drive to the grocery store, restaurants, the beach, and many other city services and entertainment venues. Essentially I get all the benefits of living in a city with mega-million-dollar homes, but my rent is 100% free. In exchange I offer up to 25 hours a week of labor for the park. I rarely work that many hours though. It's really a great gig, but I'm not earning any money.

I've finally found a way to earn some cash by doing landscaping and housecleaning work. That's helped tremendously, but it's not enough to build a savings in case something goes wrong with the RV and it need a major repair. I should clarify, I qualify and accept government assistance in the form of "Obamacare" and "Food Stamps." I don't qualify for any cash assistance, but at least I know I won't starve or be bankrupted by a medical emergency. To make matters a bit more complicated, if I earn too much money, I lose my health and food benefits, and my expenses would escalate faster than my earnings. I'm literally better off dirt poor than just mostly poor.

Still, I need money for gasoline, RV maintenance/repairs/upgrades, dog care and dozens of the other things we all take for granted.

The Arizona Expedition
I was recently reminded of the fragility of my situation after I took the RV on four-day, 1000-mile excursion from the California coast to the Arizona desert (and Phoenix). I knew my dorm-room-style 110v only fridge wouldn't function 100% on battery power. I knew I would be burning hundreds of dollars of gasoline. I was mixed with determination (I was visiting a friend who had flown out to Phoenix from Illinois), nervousness (will the RV make it?) and confidence (I have been maintaining the vehicle engine obsessively, checking the fluids every day).

The solar panel I installed worked perfectly! Even better, obviously, in the April Arizona sky, then the December Illinois sky (where and when I installed it). The generator, which I worked hard on re-building myself, also worked perfectly. The DieHard automatic battery charger, (which wasn't recommended as "automatic" chargers rarely offer the high voltage charge RVers need) worked perfectly to "top off" the house battery after a long day. Even with the solar panel charging the battery all day, I also used part of the solar energy to run the fridge through a particularly lossy inverter.

I've also found that my rig need some work to make it more "mobile friendly." I don't mean web pages on cell phones. I mean I have acquired so much stuff for daily living, that when I need to pack to RV for travel, the floor becomes so cluttered with boxes and furniture, that I can barely move around. I've also noticed I have a pretty serious internet addiction.

The Revelation
The experience not only taught me about my rig, but also about myself. I'm enjoying my time in Santa Barbara, but I do miss home. It's got me thinking that my current plan with the RV might not be the best for me. I do love the weather here. I accomplished my life-long dream of not having to deal with winter snow/cold this year! The weather is not enough though. I don't think I fit in with "SoCal culture," or Santa Barbara at least. This is a ritzy town with $4/dozen eggs and complete lack of Chicago-style deep dish pizza. :-)

Like Christopher McCandless, I've come to believe that experiences alone are not enough to satisfy the human spirit; that an experience is best shared with people you care about. So I'm going home to Illinois...in 2016.

The New Plan
I was planning on living in the RV forever, constantly traveling, maybe even driving her all the way to Alaska and back. I still want to live that lifestyle, but it will have to be in the future when I can afford a newer, better RV that's better equipped for long-term boondocking and distance travel. I do want to cross the country again and see friends and family in Illinois again, but I can't give up an opportunity I have now.

I'm already on the west coast, a trip that cost my $650 in gasoline and nearly a week of boondocking in Walmart parking lots to get here. I won't turn tail and run without at least visiting the Pacific Northwest. I feel I might fit in better there. I feel like the PNW will have a culture more closely resembling the midwestern culture I've come to appreciate (now that I'm removed from it, funny that).

I have friends and distant relatives in the Seattle area, and I've always wanted to visit Portland and Crater Lake, OR. I'll be finishing my WorkCamper job here next month and moving on. I'll look for a job where I can earn some serious cash to build up my reserves. Even though the PNW gets cold, if I find a good job, I'm sure I can upgrade the RV with tank heaters or maybe just find a sublet apartment for the winter months.

Have any of you all made significant changes in your plans after you started vandwelling/RVing? Did you find that you liked the wilderness, but liked the convenience of cities a bit more? Who else has moved from another part of the country to SoCal and found it lacking?